Saturday, May 2, 2009


This year I was asked to assist the yr 11/12 students with life skills once a fortnight. The idea is to give the students some understanding of the skills required to succeed post school. Last week was a course on memory.

I started out by asking the students to listen to 15 two and three digit numbers. I then waited ten seconds and asked them to write down as many as they could remember. The frist time varied between 4 numbers and seven numbers.

We then talked about different ways of remembering things

a) chunking (eg it is easier to remember 9456 1426 than 9 4 5 6 1 4 2 6)
b) rhyming (During the depression I felt fine, back in old '29. or creating concentration cards)
c) acronym (NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organisation)
d) pictorial (see below)
e) Look Cover Write Check
f) multi-modal delivery (Hearing, Writing, Reading)

The pictorial one was interesting as it struck a chord with many students. I drew a picture with a guy jumping off a waterfall, a Teddy bear, some stick figures lying on the ground, a guy jumping out of a three story window, an arrow pointing down. Then I asked students to complete the picture with other images of the great depression. They could see how interesting pictures could help them remember.

We then talked about how getting information into STM was not enough, STM information decays rapidly. For information to be recalled from long term memory reliably it has to be input many times to prevent decay. We discussed that we could apply the number test to learning.. If you hear 15 points in a class but don't attempt to remember them your brain will just forget them! If you spend some time trying to learn and recall the information you will have less decay of information and better recall. Revision of the same topic multiple times over multiple days is important. (I really like Saddler's miscellaneous exercises for this in mathematics!)

Over learning was also discussed. I often say to students we go through three phases when learning.

...duh?.............I get it!.............. I know it!

When students are in the 'duh?' phase they don't have a clue and nothing makes sense. If they try, they may enter the 'I get it!' phase where they can follow the teachers and do some work independently. To reach the 'I know it!' phase they have to practice and experience a range of examples and scenarios integrating their knowledge with other areas of discipline.

Overlearning a topic comes after this when knowing when to implement skill or knowledge occurs to the point of automaticity (instant recall without thinking). This can only happen when a student learns the skill and then actively seeks deep understanding of the topic, mastering the skill to the point where they will never forget through constant practice well after the 'I know it!' phase.

Interference was discussed and how Ipods and the like can be beneficial if used to block out background noise (eg with a song that is well loved but does not require active listening) as opposed to a new song that would "interfere" with the learning process.

I then asked the student to listen to the 15 numbers again. After the ten second wait they again wrote down the numbers.

I was astounded, 5 students had all 15 numbers correct. I've run this test a number of times to test transferral of information from working memory to short term memory(STM) but never with these results.

Some clever cookies here!

Here is another article on the topic.

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